Revisiting My Revisit to War of the Spark: The Exhaustive Draft Guide

Mayhem Devil Art by Dmitry Burmak
Mayhem Devil Art by Dmitry Burmak

Hi everyone! I’ve heavily updated my War of the Spark guide from October last year; this was one of the first articles I ever did for the site and it’s relevant again now that the Bot Draft format has swung back round to WAR.

I’ve added a bunch of sections, including examples of my decks in each colour pair and analysis of what those decks often look like, and provided commentary on some of my past thoughts and experiences. The bulk of it will still be written as though we’re still in October, and certainly I was less used to the article game then, so you’ll find fewer bad jokes than you’d normally expect from me! Enjoy nonetheless!

I’ve provided a smaller overview of the format alongside this. That post is comprised of the Packages, Colour Pairs, and Example Decks sections of this article, followed by some conclusions. Feel free to use that instead, if you’re lower on time or just want a quick impression of the format!

I’d like to note that my Draft coaching gig is doing really well and I’ve done a couple of WAR sessions for people already; feel free to contact me through the Discord (linked at the end) or Twitter if you’d like some hands-on learning of the format! Rates are negotiable as always.


Hello and welcome! I took a short hiatus from draft guides to do some constructed stuff (I’ll link all of my articles in the Info section at the end) but now I’m back to my roots! With the return of Ranked Draft War of the Spark to MTG Arena, I’ve sorted through some of my thoughts and experiences to bring you a huge primer chock full of analysis. This is one of my favorite formats of recent years; I drafted it extensively on Arena throughout the lifespan of the format and several times sporadically in paper, and I can honestly say that even after sixty or seventy drafts, I was still having a great time. WAR is one of the deepest formats with the most engaging gameplay I can recall and it didn’t get the acclaim it really deserved. I’m going to take this opportunity to show you why it has captivated me more than any other format on Arena. EDIT: While this was true at the time, I now believe that Theros: Beyond Death is the best format Arena has had, followed closely by Ikoria and WAR; I’ll wait till the end of the format to order those conclusively. Part of the problem is that Ikoria is skewed by Human drafts being so much better than Bot Drafts, which makes it hard to weigh as objectively. What I’m saying is that if you haven’t played much WAR before, you should really get stuck in!).

This article will, once again, be less of an archetypes guide and more of a general in-depth overview of the format. In most formats, I don’t put too much stock in archetypes; one should know the WAR archetypes but not let the idea of being in a “good” one force their whole draft into a certain direction. I recommend taking the best cards out of each pack early on, staying open, and allowing them to guide you in a certain direction as that is the best strategy in WAR. This is the default approach a lot of great drafters use including pros like Ben Stark and LSV, and that I have used for many years and had the best results with. For more information about this school of drafting, you can find my basic draft concepts guides here (I also introduce myself in the first of these, if this is your first article of mine!) and read Ben Stark’s article on the subject.

I’ll instead be analysing, at length, features of the format and strategies to exploit those features to your advantage, and including useful tips and advice for both the drafting and playing stages. The aim is not only to help you assess the format and draft/play it better, but to figure out how to assess future formats, draw your own conclusions, learn where you might’ve made mistakes and how to correct them, and have a better understanding of draft theory. I’ve already done a Throne of Eldraine version of this article; you can find that here!

A brief warning that we’re now over 7,000 words – use the table of contents below to navigate if you need to! The headings “Packages, not Archetypes” and “Examples of what War’s decks look like” were my primary additions to this article, but I added to some of my old paragraphs too.

Packages, not Archetypes

Note: This section is one of the new ones, and references Ikoria heavily. In fact, my whole section with descriptions of what the colour pairs often look like and screenshots of my decks is all new.

The difference between an archetype and a package is that archetypes tend to mean that your entire draft revolves around them, so you’re now drafting “the Rakdos Amass deck” rather than “A Rakdos deck with Amass and Amass payoffs”. The decks in WAR tend to be far more commonly of the latter sort than the former; they tend to have a lot of good-stuffy elements alongside the smaller bundles of synergy; this is why I like using the term package to express WAR’s drafting. A format like Ikoria is far more decided by synergy than WAR, and that has its own upsides and downsides; the major downside is that the drafting stage tends to be a lot more boring when you’ve found the lane you’re happy sticking to than in a package format; if you’ve begun to draft cycling in Ikoria, then there isn’t much room for nuance in the picks, since you just slam every payoff you see over the 1-cost cyclers over the 2-cost cyclers until you have enough payoffs that you take the cyclers higher.That being said, I would still consider Ikoria a Package rather than Archetype format (as with the vast majority of formats), since only Cycling and perhaps Humans lead to such a rigid style of drafting; Mutate is very much package-based synergy instead. In WAR, however, almost no decks are archetypal; there’s some stuff you can do like draft Rakdos Aggro, but that’s just one of the many directions Rakdos can go in, rather than the typical example of what a Rakdos deck looks like.

Examples of what WAR’s decks of each colour pair tend to look like:

  • You almost always want to be 2 colours in WAR, but there are some really wacky splashes you can do. Check out my Fixing and Splashes section!
  • I wouldn’t stay away from any colour pair in WAR; it’s pretty well-balanced even if White is significantly worse than the other colours, since White tended to be open a lot more even in bot drafts. If something’s open this format, you should be there. White also tended to have some of the best non-rare splashes in Wanderer’s Strike, Prison Realm, and other great removal options.
  • WAR is an extremely deep format so I’ll have to list a lot of different kinds of deck for each colour pair, which perhaps should give you an indication of why I like this format so much! I mostly talk about commons; obviously some of the uncommons skew you into specific directions, like Narset, Parter of Veils tends to only be good in some decks, but you see them far less often and many of them tend to just be good in every deck anyway, like Eternal Skylord.
  • The decks below are just examples; just because I list Thunder Drake as a reason to build in a more fliers way doesn’t mean it’s not just a good card in most decks; as I said, there are no rigid archetypes in WAR, and you should mostly just be looking for cards that are good and fit your deck’s overall plan; so a card like Invading Manticore can still be worse in your aggressive red decks, even if it’s decent in the overall format, but being “Amass” isn’t really much of a thing (though certainly having cards like Eternal Skylord or Flux Channeler, which buff armies, is a reason to want Amass cards more).

Dimir (U/B)

Dimir leverages great removal with powerful Amass cards like Aven Eternal, Toll of the Invasion, and Callous Dismissal to disrupt its opponents and then win with finishers like Thunder Drake or Kiora’s Dambreaker. Common directions are:
a) more fliersy with stuff like Sky Theater Strix (a medium card, but actually reasonably playable in a set absolutely full of noncreatures), Shriekdiver (usually bad but okay filler in fliers), good blockers, and a focus on cheap disruptive spells. Callous Dismissal is better in this style of deck, though card is usually great everywhere.
b) more controlling/grindy with No Escape, Vraska’s Finisher, and card draw of some sort, whether that’s Tamiyo’s Epiphany or Spark Reaper. Toll of the Invasion tends to be better in this style of deck, though card is usually good everywhere.

Dimir is consistently good, since blue and black are both powerful and deep, but the ceiling isn’t as high as some of the more synergy-oriented decks.

Possibly the best Dimir deck I had in War, and pretty representative of how they end up looking (if more powerful than most)

Izzet (U/R)

Izzet tends to focus on either noncreatures (not just spells!) matter and/or aggression. It’s one of the less consistent decks to build, since you really need to pick up some good red burn spells or Callous Dismissals, but the ceiling is really high. Spellgorger Weird, Thunder Drake, and Burning Prophet are at their best in Izzet decks, alongside stuff like Totally Lost and Honor the God-Pharaoh. Izzet decks tend to be more planeswalkery, since other people don’t want Narset and Saheeli nearly as much. Thunder Drake/Contentious Plan is a common and powerful combo, though obviously you need other good stuff to proliferate onto such as planeswalkers.

Noncreatures Matter. Heartfire might look medium here, but being able to sacrifice expended planeswalkers and Tibalt tokens made it pretty good. I boarded in a copy of Totally Lost a lot. I should have been playing the 17th land here, but I often played or boarded down to 16 in WAR because flooding out was a huge concern for Izzet in such an attritiony format where it didn’t have as many good late game tools as the other colour pairs; still, it was a mistake not to do so here.
Izzet is one of the best aggro colour pairs too!

Simic (U/G)

Simic has some of the best synergies in the format, being the best colours for proliferate packages since both colours have great payoffs and +1/+1 counters, and best leveraging cards like Contentious Plan and Bloom Hulk. Flux Channeler and Evolution Sage can propel these sorts of decks from merely being good to being the absolute nuts; Simic has the highest ceiling of any deck in the format because those two cards are so broken in it. The proliferate deck in Simic is the closest thing to an archetype WAR has, but it remains intricate and fun to Draft, since there are so many proliferate cards and payoffs that it’s difficult to pin down exactly which is best for your deck as it currently looks.

Simic can also play a decent beatdown game, but you tend to suffer from lack of removal if you’re not going hard on the synergies.

This was one of my best decks of the format, and an example of how busted Simic Proliferate can be if it really gets there; don’t expect many of your decks to look like this though!

Rakdos (B/R)

Rakdos is one of my favourite colour pairs; another one with powerful and synergistic decks, including perhaps the best aggressive deck, but you can also play it in a grindy way around its Sacrifice cards. This is where Heartfire, Spark Reaper, and Spark Harvest are at their best, and so are cards like Chandra’s Pyrohelix and Tibalt’s Rager alongside Vraska’s Finisher.

Rakdos Aggro at its best
A more grindy Rakdos deck, playing a fantastic midrange beats game with lots of removal and Spellgorger Weirds. This deck was looking for Spark Reapers, and would have been significantly better with them, but did not find one. Notice the flood preparation in 2 Honors – any non-aggro deck without really busted late game in this format needs to have a plan for flood, whether that’s only playing 16 land or having Spark Reapers/Erratic Visionaries/ mana sinks.

Golgari (G/B) and Gruul (R/G)

Golgari and Gruul tend to be kind of similar, in that they’re midrange beatdowny decks. Gruul is the better aggressive deck, since it has more cards with 4-power synergy and better ways to enable those, and its removal is more efficient, but it also just has a lot less of it than Golgari and really struggles to deal with big creatures where Golgari can do so with ease. Golgari is one of the best grindy midrange decks, wearing people down and removing all of their stuff, but tends to have a rough time with more controlling decks/has individually less powerful cards than say Dimir or Rakdos.

Golgari is the better deck usually, but Gruul can really get there if it gets enough good red burn/can lean into its 4 power synergies more.

BEATS BY KRONCH. A sort of mixture between Golgari and Gruul’s strategies, playing a fantastic beatdown game backed up by good removal.
Gruul has access to a fantastic tool in Bolt Bend, where it is the only deck in the format that can consistently leverage it – there’s enough good removal that Bolt Bend is usually a giant blowout when it costs 1 mana.

Orzhov (W/B)

Orzhov was one of the few white/x pairs I was routinely impressed with, because it had good proliferate synergy and sacrifice outlets to make use of White’s medium creatures late game; cards like Martyr for the Cause and Teyo’s Lightshield were much better here, since you could cash them in for the death effect or the counter whenever you wanted, often while drawing a card alongside Spark Reaper or getting absurd tempo with Spark Harvest. If you had a couple of creatures with counters on them and then were casting Wanderer’s Strike, you were getting a really busted rate.

I’m not sure how much of this was because Black was busted, but Azorius didn’t really pan out despite Blue being almost as busted, so I suspect synergy was the answer.

One of the Orzhov decks that was basically a pile of removal and then had disposable creatures + sacrifice synergies to push into the late game alongside the usual white medium early aggressive plan. Yes, this deck has Oketra, but according to my notes I only got to cast it once so pretend it’s not there! Even Oketra was very beatable this format, with Toll of the Invasion/fantastic removal everywhere, and stuff like Kasmina’s Transmutation to shut it off permanently.

Boros (W/R)

Boros was probably the second best white deck after Orzhov, since it made best use of all White’s tiny aggressive creatures and had a focused gameplan. White tended to be removal heavy in the format, so the decks would often play out like removal piles and if you have enough removal, small beatdowny creatures actually become pretty good! You could also just be Boros Control with good rare/uncommon payoffs like Sunblade Angel and Kaya.

A busted Boros aggressive deck – Trusted Pegasus is a really powerful card, and having great removal goes a long way. Even the medium creatures like Rising Populace, Teyo’s Lightshield, and Makeshift Battalion become pretty good here alongside all this proliferate. Oketra is obviously a great addition, but this deck would be great even without it.

Selesnya (W/G)

Selesnya was one of the decks I tried out a lot especially early on, but wasn’t usually all that impressed by because its gameplan was usually “build a huge creature with Courage in Crisis and then lose to removal”. White was the worst colour in WAR, because its creatures were small and weak and didn’t line up well with the rest of the format, and you were often pigeonholed into being a medium aggro deck if you were base white. That being said, I had success with the decks that leaned hard into Green Proliferate and mostly used white for busted uncommons like Graceful Apparition, the few good white commons like Trusted Pegasus, and removal spells like Law-Rune Enforcer/Divine Arrow, or for rares and mythics. Selesnya was still well worth going into if it was very open.

This deck has a lot of those medium creatures I spoke of, but is able to catch up by having a wealth of removal and some great rares/uncommons like Challenger Troll and Vraska.
The Charmed Stray proliferate deck was a meme deck which sometimes panned out, and was at its best in this colour pair. This is a really powerful version of it – if you’re seeing a lot of Charmed Strays on the wheel, that can be a great reason to move into Selesnya.

Azorius (W/U)

Azorius was a running joke for my long-time friend and fellow draft-obsessed maniac JustLola and I (find his Twitch here and tell him I sent you!), because we were almost never in it. Every draft, we would say “today is the day we’ll draft Azorius” and then it usually didn’t pan out. I have had perhaps four Azorius drafts of over a hundred at this point. In theory, Azorius is a good fliers deck and you can get stuff like Rally of Wings which can lead to some big swings, and I have definitely lost to that card a bunch, but in practice White just doesn’t have all that many good fliers and brings Blue’s incredible power level down so you end up being akin to Selesnya in that you are a Blue deck with good White removal like Wanderer’s Strike and Prison Realm, and generally great White cards or those that have synergy with your proliferate cards. You go into it if it’s very open, and it’s often great if it is, but it’s rare (which is flavourful since rares are often a good reason to be in it!).

Martyr can be a fairly awkward card since outside Black, it doesn’t die when you need it to, but at least it’s fulfilling the role of protecting planeswalkers here too, and being a cheap and synergistic card with Thunder Drakes .

Let’s get the elephant in the room out the way – Walkers

WAR is the first format to feature uncommon and rare planeswalkers, and the uncommon ones are one of the format’s defining aspects. The uncommon walkers don’t have + abilities or ultimates, so they work rather differently from the mythic ones you might be used to – their potential to snowball out of control is much lower because they have limited uses. The mythic ones from old formats have a tendency to take over games, make them revolve around them and be generally unstoppable, because they provide unlimited value as long as they are alive. That isn’t the case with the uncommon ones or even the mythic ones in this format.

Uncommon planeswalkers aren’t useless after you’ve used them a few times, however; proliferate is heavily supported and you can proliferate the uncommon planeswalkers as a means of +ing them and getting additional uses. The uncommon walkers also have passive abilities that work like enchantments and warp the game in your opponents’ favour – Angrath, Captain of Chaos gives all of its controller’s creatures menace, which can be really hard to deal with and result in you taking a lot more damage than you otherwise would have. There’s a supported sacrifice theme in the set, and several cards are capable of sacrificing expended planeswalkers to get additional value out of them.

This all means that if your opponent is in proliferate colours (blue, green and white), you generally want to kill their planeswalkers whenever you have the opportunity, even if they can’t activate right now – it is often too dangerous to let them live and risk that additional use later down the line. Even in black and red, you might want to kill them to stop their passive abilities or deny them the sacrifice value from a card like Spark Reaper or Heartfire. The value of the passive ability is entirely dependent on the planeswalker – Ashiok, Dream Render and Teyo, the Shieldmage have passives that don’t do anything in most games, while most of the draw of Saheeli, Sublime Artificer is in the passive, so it’s important to look up the planeswalkers and learn what they do before you launch into a draft. Some of the planeswalkers’ passives are very easy to forget until you’re burned by them, like that of Narset, Partner of Veils, so don’t fall into that trap!

If your opponent is in black, however, you want to be a bit more careful as they could have access to Aid the Fallen, a heavily played common in the format. You could be spending a bunch of resources just to have to deal with the same planeswalker with completely refreshed loyalty (and they get a creature back to boot) – sometimes it’s worth giving them an extra activation or easy sacrifice to avoid this, if you can’t currently deal with the reincarnated planeswalker again.

Now, if you’ve played with planeswalkers in limited before, their being so frequent here might sound really annoying and a detriment to the format, but this is also the best format for dealing with planeswalkers. The removal in the format is strong (meaning that it’s harder to protect planeswalkers with creatures) and there are several common pieces that specifically hit planeswalkers, like Spark Harvest and Heartfire. There’s plenty of evasion and ways to grant evasion to things. This all means that they’re strong, but not the end all be all: some blue decks don’t even care very much about planeswalkers, because they have a bunch of Sky Theater Strixes, Aven Eternals and Thunder Drakes and the planeswalkers will just die without generating too much value.

Answering the uncommon walkers before they can get full value is critical to winning many games – let’s look at Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage as an example. The failcase of Davriel is that he discards you once (maybe even zero times in the late game), and then immediately dies to a flier or just to the pressure you have on the board. That’s really not that bad for you – Davriel is a pretty bad card when the user is behind or in the late game. However, he’s also a huge beating if he lives in the early to midgame – if you can’t kill him, he threatens to discard you three times or to do so twice, then sit in play threatening to burn you with his passive or to be proliferated and discard you again.

war-083-davriel-rogue-shadowmage
It’s not my fault! You just can’t find the help these days…

Luckily, Davriel has low loyalty and you can deal with him in a multitude of ways early on, but you really want to have a plan to do that as your opponent in black reaches turn 3 – whether that is a flier or a removal spell to get your 2/2 through. It’s way easier to deal with planeswalkers on the play since they are way less likely to have adequate protection to stop you killing them, and Davriel exemplifies that – I often found myself boarding him out on the draw (though that’s not going to be an option in Bo1) because his failcase is so bad. This format may be on the slower side, but planeswalkers mean you want to be on the play every game.

How much does a good WAR deck rely on rares?

A lot of people think WAR is a very bomby format but I think this is a misconception, based on evaluting the format through the lens of previous lower power-level formats. WAR, compared to the formats immediately preceding it such as Guilds and Ixalan, is at a much higher power level. The removal for both walkers and creatures is much better; there are many common creatures in WAR that are capable of generating huge value themselves, such as Bloom Hulk and Flux Channeler. In a format like this, the rares and mythics stand out less – they’re still very good and having them is a great upside, but the format isn’t dominated by them at all and I have routinely beat tons of great rares and mythics.

I felt much more equipped to handle bombs in WAR than in most formats – a card like Ugin, the Ineffable often just 2 for 1s (which is still really good, but not busted), where protecting it in other formats would’ve been very easy and it would’ve been often impossible to remove.

In general, I would recommend people don’t worry too much about whether or not they have good rares: they’re a nice addition but what determines if your deck is good, if it lives or dies, is usually the commons and uncommons.

Tl;dr: WAR is a format where the vast majority of games are decided by commons and uncommons, not rares & mythics, even if it’s often rares and mythics that pull you into your colours.

How do colours stack up in WAR?

Colour rankings aren’t the end all be all – I would still recommend drafting what’s open, and only using colours to break ties. Still, some colours are better than others and in WAR, I think B > U > G > R > W is the ranking from strongest to weakest. Black has the best commons, is powerful and deep, and I drafted it the most in WAR. It really has everything you want – good removal (Spark Harvest/Cruelty), mana sinks (Spark Reaper), decent tempo cards that retain usefulness later in the game (Lazotep Reaver/Vraska’s Finisher/Herald of the Dreadhorde) and strong utility cards (Toll of the Invasion/Aid the Fallen). I’ll talk a bit more about importance of specific cards in the format later, but know that Black is the real deal. Black has a lot of synergy with red, as they both have good sacrifice themes and form the most successful aggro decks in the format, while still having a lot of grindy elements to help in the late game.

war-101-ob-nixiliss-cruelty
That feel when your cruelty is better than you are…

Blue is close to black in power level as it has good fliers (Aven Eternal/Thunder Drake), is strong against planeswalkers in general because of this, has some decent removal (Callous Dismissal/Kasmina’s Transmutation) and strong late game options (Tamiyo’s Epiphany/Spellgorger Weird/Kiora’s Dambreaker). Additionally, it has some of the best uncommons (Eternal Skylord/Rescuer Sphinx/Flux Channeler are all incredible). Blue black (best card quality, best late game, best removal) and blue green (busted proliferate synergy, best creatures) are likely the best colour combinations in the format.  

Green has the best creatures, and some of the best proliferate synergy cards (Bloom Hulk/Pollenbright Druid) but is held down by the removal being so good. Being down a card to proliferate is pretty bad when your creatures can be answered in such an efficient manner, which limits the effectiveness of cards like Courage in Crisis and New Horizons. I’ll explain why tricks are worse in a second, and Green has two of those at common (even Giant Growth is pretty mediocre in this format and Steady Aim is unplayable).  
Despite that, Band Together is a strong green removal option, and green’s uncommons are very strong – Evolution Sage is perhaps the best uncommon in the format, Challenger Troll is often a 6/5 unblockable that makes some of your other creatures unblockable and Paradise Druid is fantastic in any base green deck. Green can be a bit hit and miss, but if you get the good cards and leave the bad, is very powerful.

Red and green are similar in power level. Red forms the only good aggressive decks, has several strong early game cards and early game removal options, a lot of burn, and Spellgorger Weird – a strong threat that threatens to run away with the game very quickly and provides proliferate synergy. Red is a solid support colour for all the other colours that provides a significant boost to their early game power and synergy – it provides great fodder and removal for the sacrifice theme in black, good cheap spells to buff blue’s payoffs, good removal to clear the gap for red green’s big creatures and good burn to end the game once they stabilise and helps the Boros archetype a lot, since you really need to be aggressive in that pair. Since both sides are so low on resources in the late game, even the aggro decks often run tools like Invading Manticore and Honor the God-Pharaoh to help them there. Remember, it isn’t hard to get noncreature cards in this format since there are amass cards which are both creatures and spells, planeswalkers count and the removal is so good. Red’s cards that work off noncreatures, like Burning Prophet and Spellgorger Weird, are usually very good.  

White is pretty underpowered in this set and the weakest colour by a fair margin. The problem with white is that it is very bad in the late game and in attrition battles – it has a ton of medium creatures that fall off hard later on in a format that absolutely preys on those, and you have to rely almost entirely on your other colour for late game options in a format that is largely late-game dominated.
 
White has the most tricks and those are worse in this set for two reasons: 1) tricks are often used as removal tools in formats where removal is less abundant, since they can situationally kill units but in WAR, you have so much good removal that you don’t need them as much and 2) the presence of instant speed removal threatens to 2 for 1 any trick (I attack with my 3/3, my opponent blocks with their 2/3 and casts Giant Growth, I cast Ob Nixilis’s Cruelty and they lose two cards to my one), and WAR has plenty of it at common.

White also has poor synergy with most of the other colours – in theory, Selesnya and Azorius can make the biggest and baddest proliferate creatures but those tend to die to all the good removal and you’ve usually invested two cards into them at that point… The main draw of white is its good common removal options, and black already has that covered so white black tends to be quite awkward. If you draft Boros, you really won’t have many late game options at all so you will need to let your burn and strong late game creatures like Invading Manticore do the talking.

Luckily draft is self-correcting and WAR bots are pretty well-tuned at this point so white tends to be very open a lot. It’s well worth going into then, as it is a pretty good support colour – it does have some good removal (Law-Rune Enforcer, Wanderer’s Strike, Divine Arrow) at common and some fantastic uncommons, which are much easier to get since it’s usually open (Prison Realm, Sunblade Angel, multicolour uncommons like Pledge of Unity and Elite Guardmage – though these are hurt a bit because they’re all decent splashes so other people might well take them for that purpose). I would recommend prioritising late game options in your other colour when you are white/x (but not Boros). Black, blue and green do late game and mana sinks fantastically though, and you’ll have enough a lot of the time.

How slow is WAR really?

So currently we’re in the land of ELD, which makes WAR look like practically a fast format but discounting that, WAR is a value format that is on the slower side. Unlike other slow formats, you really want to be on the board in WAR though – as we saw in the Davriel example above, being on the board means you can pressure down walkers and better protect your walkers. Some colours also have additional incentives to play 2 drops – green, blue and white have proliferate which incentivises 2 drops that have counters themselves like Ugin’s Conjurant or that put counters on things like Pollenbright Druid, and black and red have sacrifice synergy like Spark Reaper and Heartfire which incentivise having 2 drops around that generate value even if they die, especially ones like Lazotep Reaver.  Cards that generate 1/1 armies on 2 can function as 2 drops, because they still give you the baseline creature to make use of for the synergies above, and they have additional Amass synergy – if you Amass with an army already in play, the Amass card functions as an aura, buffing that card and giving you an immediate attack to pressure a planeswalker.

This means that the 2 drops that fit well into the synergistic elements of your deck are obviously great, but you always want to have some number of 2 drops, especially if you are the sort of deck that otherwise has difficulty answering planeswalkers (i.e. not decks with lots of evasion). I would recommend having minimum four 2 drops in every deck, and taking ones the colour you’re in has synergy with like Pollenbright Druid and Lazotep Reaver highly, even early on. There’s always a cost to having too many 2 drops without relevant late game abilities and that cost is higher in slower formats. With the good ones, you forgo that cost because you’ll have synergy with them so they’ll still be useful – whether becoming a 5/5 with proliferate later on, or netting you a card with Spark Reaper and yet you still won’t fall behind against planeswalkers.

A lot of games, even from non-aggro decks, are still decided in the early to midgame, and you need to be curving out and making good plays or you will just lose to planeswalkers and value cards. It isn’t as important to have creatures early in WAR though – you just need to affect the board and prevent planeswalkers from running away with the game, and cards like Toll of the Invasion, removal for walkers or just having one creature + removal for blockers to chip away at walkers are all fine ways of preventing that. If you are making good proactive/value plays, it’s also often fine to just let the uncommon planeswalkers run their course – if you’re getting a counters on several of your walkers and creatures from proliferate and they’re just activating their one walker, they probably won’t be able to keep up.  

WAR is a much more attrition-based slow format than ELD – in ELD, you will often have adventure cards to cast or be generating value far into the late game and it is much easier to go way over the top, with cards that generate a ton of value by themselves or strategies like the mill archetype. In WAR, it is very common for games to be very back and forth and leave both players low on resources in the late game, and decking is very uncommon. Mana sinks often decide the late game in just a few turns, and you want several in every deck. Spark Reaper is the best one at common (take this at a B-/high 3.0), but Spellkeeper Weird (C+/3.0) and Vivien’s Grizzly are also quite good (C/2.5).

In other slower formats, being on the play matters less but like I said before, you really want to be on the play here because your walkers will be much better and enemy walkers much easier to handle.  

High end is decent in WAR but you don’t need too much of it – you want 1-3 decent 6 or 7 drops and there are three good ones at common: Invading Manticore in red, Kiora’s Dambreaker in blue and Tithebearer Giant in black. Take these as decently high picks (around the 2.5 or C level for Tithebearer or Manticore, and 3/C+ for Dambreaker), and don’t prioritise other 6 or 7 drops – if you end up having to play a Primordial Wurm, it’s not too bad but you don’t need it. If you’re in two of the Grixis colours, you don’t need to take these as highly since you’re likely to get enough reasonable 6 drops anyway – although you might still want to prioritise Kiora’s Dambreaker for being significantly better than the other two.

The presence of planeswalkers weakens aggro in WAR – they tend to produce small creatures which gum up the ground, and they raise effective starting life totals because aggro decks will be forced to attack them. Additionally, proliferate decks can easily outsize them and make their creatures quickly useless. This means that good aggro decks in WAR usually have options to help them grind in the late game or buy them time to draw into more burn.

WAR might be slow but there are certainly good aggro decks – every red combination is capable of producing these, and all you really need is good curve plays and removal in the two colours, which isn’t that hard to make happen. People won’t be as prepared for aggro decks, since white isn’t great and a lot of the red decks are Rakdos sacrifice or Izzet spells, which are trying to grind anyway. Gruul is probably the best aggro deck in the format – it has a lot of efficient creatures, good early removal and strong proliferate synergy.

Fixing and Splashes

If you’re going to splash in WAR, make it worth it – fixing cards are generally of pretty mediocre quality, like Guild Globe and New Horizons, so you can usually splash if you want, but it’s often not worth it. If you’re going to splash and you don’t have fixers that are great cards by themselves (like Paradise Druid and Leyline Prowler), splash quality cards like the best uncommons and good rares/mythics only. Being three colour is possible with a lot of fixing, but the cards that fix are of such poor quality in this format that I wouldn’t really recommend doing more than splashing a few cards. In a format so powerful, you really want all your cards to be impactful, and the colours are deep enough that I very rarely ended up with too few playables so I never needed to be three colour.

There are some pretty wacky splashes Guild Globes and New Horizons can enable though – with enough New Horizons, you can splash double colour cards like Liliana, Dreadhorde General in a Simic deck. With enough Guild Globes/Firemind Vessels/supplemental sources, you can splash cards in two colours you’re not in, like Ajani the Great-Hearted in your Dimir deck.

An example of some of the crazy stuff you can do! This was my bombiest deck of the entire format.

Key commons of the format – and a few uncommons

  • Toll of the Invasion is one of the most important cards in the format, and deceptively powerful because not only does it answer any problem card cleanly, but the Army it gives you is very important in a format with Amass, Proliferate and sacrifice synergies. I would be happy to play two Tolls in most decks, but they are very bad topdecks so don’t run too many unless your deck can make exceptionally good use of the Army or has ways to loot it away late. Still, take the first at about a B-/low 3.5 level and the second at about C+/low 3.0.
  • Callous Dismissal, like Toll, is much better than it first appears in this format, because the 1/1 is so useful and you can often convert bouncing a creature in the early game into also killing a planeswalker or severely disrupting your opponent.
  • Aid the Fallen is a decisive way to break attrition games if you have enough planeswalkers to fuel it – you want about four for it to be good and you can sometimes play two if you have more. Most decks with those requirements should be happy to play one.
  • Evolution Sage/Flux Channeler are two of the best uncommons. Evolution Sage is better, since it converts all your draws in the late game into good draws whereas Flux Channeler is more of a rich get richer sort of situation, but both are insane. The advantage you get from proliferating three or more permanents each turn is absolutely insurmountable, and there are enough cards with counters in the format to easily make that a reality.
  • Spark Reaper is the best common mana sink of the format. It completely breaks the attrition games as it protects itself your threats from removal late, since you can just sacrifice them and 2 for 1 them in response. It recycles your 2 drops and Armies, and makes them into real cards – often it’s worth sacrificing your 1/1 Army to Spark Reaper before you play a card that amasses for 1, since a 1/1 and a card is better than a 2/2 in most spots. Spark Reaper can also sacrifice planeswalkers; you can use it to clean up those you have lying around on 1 counter that you haven’t been able to proliferate and get free cards out of them.
  • Thunder Drake is a lynchpin of blue in this format. After it gets one counter, you can proliferate it and start to run away with the game. If you have multiple Thunder Drakes, it’s often worth prioritising cheaper cards of a similar power level over expensive ones. Thunder Drake combines extremely well with Contentious Plan – remember to cast your Plan as the second spell of the turn.
  • Contentious Plan combines well with a ton of cards – from planeswalkers to Armies to Thunder Drakes. It’s not hard to get a lot of value off it in the mid or late game, and you always get your card back. Take it highly in any deck where you’re on plan to have 8 or more cards that benefit from being proliferated at the end of the draft.  
  • Kasmina’s Transmutation is a reasonable removal option, but it is much worse in WAR than it would be in other formats. The fact that you can put counters on the 1/1/sacrifice it to things for value means that leaving them with random bodies is asking to get 2 for 1ed later in the game. You should take it at about a 2.5/C level and be willing to cut it if you have better removal options. It is specifically quite powerful with Thunder Drake though, since it’s cheap and prevents them from racing you on the ground while your Drakes fly over.
  • Bolt Bend is a card that is weak in most decks but fantastic if you have 6 or more 4+ power units. It has the ability to be one of the most backbreaking 2 for 1s and tempo plays in the format if you have a 4 power unit, stealing a great removal spell and redirecting it to their best creature and being almost impossible to play around, since it only costs 1 mana.  You should take this card highly in Gruul as you’ll often have lots of 4 power units there.
  • Ashiok, Dream Render – I think Ashiok is a very overrated card in the format since it doesn’t do anything by itself, and just provides a slow and easily-interactable win condition. Milling in general isn’t supported so Ashiok tends to just mill them for 12 and then they stabilise, kill Ashiok and win from there because you’re a card down for no real gain. Decking doesn’t happen often enough that 8-12 cards will really get them in the red zone; it is easy for one player to beat another on low resources with just one or two cards worth of advantage. I think there are a few narrow decks where Ashiok does belong – decks with lots of proliferate that can protect him very well and have Aid the Fallen to recur him – but in general, I really dislike him in the format and would not recommend taking him at all highly.
  • Spellgorger Weird – this is red’s premier threat in the format that scales up as the game goes on and threatens to run away with it very quickly. Take it highly, don’t prioritise noncreature cards as you’ll have plenty in most decks anyway.

Closing Thoughts

Phew! Well, if you’ve read any of my other articles (which I’ve shamelessly plugged a couple of times here, and will link at the end), you’ll know that when I say I’ll talk at length about things, I really do mean it! If you’ve made it to the end, thanks a lot and wow, that’s pretty impressive! I really tried to pack in as much useful information and analysis here as I could, and I really had a lot to get through after so many drafts – and I wasn’t anywhere near done when I finally hit this stopping point.

I hope I made clear many of the reasons I love WAR so much – I really think it has some of the most engaging gameplay of any format in recent years (I think the only two formats that I’ve enjoyed as much since 2016 have been Eldritch Moon and Hour of Devastation), and that the format has a fantastic balance between synergy and power that makes the draft stage very intricate and engaging. Eldraine draft can drag on a bit in places, but I never got bored of WAR and in my mind, it’s the unsung hero of slow formats done absolutely right.

As always, I’ll be around to answer any questions you have and would appreciate any and all feedback! If you’re reading this on Reddit, please consider upvoting as that really helps my articles reach a greater audience. Thanks again folks and see you next time!

Other Info

Note: I’ve left this section almost entirely the same for posterity, but added a few relevant bits.

Find my articles here: https://mtgazone.com/drifter/ or follow me on Twitter. My last draft article (at the time): https://mtgazone.com/throne-of-eldraine-draft-strategies-and-tips/. Nowadays, I’d recommend my Limited Spotlight series, especially Learning from your Draft Decks. At this point, I have done something like 50 articles for the site on many different topics.

I often answer a bunch of questions on my reddit threads; the one for this article is here: https://www.reddit.com/r/MagicArena/comments/dnbhkb/war_of_the_spark_draft_guide_war_ranked_draft_is/. Of specific interest, I explained why proliferate decks are so powerful in the format, why they’re really not that hard to put together either, and gave some examples of great proliferate decks I’ve drafted. I also talked a bit about the importance of staying open in WAR, and gave some details about my winrates and experience playing the format.

I am an infinite drafter on Arena having profited something like 40k gems, make high mythic often, and offer in-person discord coaching! If you’re interested, please private message me/leave a comment on reddit or you can DM me if you are part of the arenazone discord (linked below). Rates are negotiable.

A simplified hypergeometric calculator for magic mana bases: https://www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/kmliu/mtg_calculator.html or you can find more complex ones (and guides for them) all over the internet. I made a useful and easy-to-comprehend guide to them specificially for magic since then! Find that here.

Lola’s stream (a good friend of mine and fellow infinite drafter): www.twitch.tv/justlolaman and his WAR tier list (I worked with him on the M20 one) with his ratings under J at the top there: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1z_KrNOeOEeKdpX7H5qLC4OLX_6QL-lhocg-T9Bn2cDQ/edit#gid=1225276753. I don’t agree with all of his ratings obviously, but the vast majority are great.

The MTG Arena Zone discord: https://discord.gg/SPYMExR. Engage with your favourite arenazone content creators there, myself included!

Drifter

Drifter is our site’s content manager and main editor! Follow him on Twitter and check out his content at https://mtgazone.com/drifter. A draft and strategy specialist, of special mention are his limited reviews and draft coaching service.

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